Hello, in antebellum and late 19th century New York City, nothing could clear a street faster than the cry of “mad dog!” Rabies was perhaps the most feared disease of the era; and because animals and humans lived in such close proximity, even as New York was growing into a city of millions, that proximity led people to always have in the back of their mind a dread of what might possibly happen to either them or their children.
As Jessica Wang describes in her wittily titled new book Mad Dogs and Other New Yorkers: Rabies, Medicine, and Society in an American Metropolis, 1840-1920, rabies overlaps many areas of transformation in an era of transformation. Medicine, urban politics, urban geography, and cultural imagination all take their turn under her investigative gaze. The result is not a history of a disease, but the history of a society at a particularly important moment in its self-creation.
Jessica Wang is Associate Professor of History at the University of British Columbia. She has previously written American Science in an Age of Anxiety: Scientists, Anticommunism, and the Cold War.